Gator golf

On a recent trip to Florida, the stories about gators on golf courses came into a clearer focus.  Steve, an addicted golfer, is reasonably skilled at the sport, and for better or worse, is also responsible for introducing me to the game at the age of 64.  Up to that time, many of his stories about golf simply did not process.  On occasion, a golfer might exaggerate a bit to make a point.  His tales about gators on the Florida courses were interesting, probably exaggerated, and certainly were a novel diversion from a game that can really suck at times.  As all golfers attest sooner or later, golf is a four-letter word.  It may be the perfect example of a love-hate relationship, but not necessarily in that order.  In any event, some of the stories of gators were almost beyond belief, until this most recent trip.

His favorite story occurred at Cimmarone in North Florida.  This course is surrounded by an upscale housing development that is rarely visible from the fairways, but otherwise is out in the wild.  It is a beautiful course, and like many courses in Florida, water can become a problem.  At Cimmarone, water can become a problem on every hole, eighteen holes, and often on both sides of the fairway.  It is not too great a problem for a good golfer, but for a novice, a considerable amount of time can be spent walking the waters edge searching for errant shots.  Given the abundance of water around the course, it is also the perfect environment for Florida’s gators. It follows that one might exercise some caution while looking for balls at the waters edge.  For those of you with twelve-foot ball retrievers, it is possible to probe the waters depths for a considerable distance from the shore, and simultaneously intrude into the gators favorite hangouts.  Pulling back only part of a ball-retriever is a distinct possibility in this setting.  The dangers lurking at the waters edge are only the beginning of this particular story.

On one of his circuits around Cimmarone, Steve teed off on a long par five, and arrived at his ball, which was resting not too near the water.  As he was preparing for his second shot, he heard some commotion from the water behind him.  He turned around and to his surprise, he saw a ten foot gator coming quite directly toward him. In the interest of caution, he retreated to the golf cart for reasonable protection.  While this was startling in itself, it was not as frightening, he says, as what happened next.  The gator proceeded to walk completely across the fairway from the water, and disappeared among the trees on the other side.

Now, he asserts, particularly when playing Cimmarone, it is essential to exercise some caution along the waters edge, but he added the need to apply an equal amount of caution when looking for balls among the trees.  Exactly what ten-foot gators do in the trees is not known, but as essentially lazy creatures, with powerful jaws and sharp teeth, you would certainly not want to be surprised while reaching into the bushes for your golf ball.

Some time later, we were playing at Cypress Knoll Golf Course in Palm Coast.  It, too, is a beautiful layout with homes and water in abundance.  On the 14th fairway we saw what appeared to be another gator sunning on the bank a few feet from the water.  As we approached it in the golf cart, I exclaimed that it was not a gator at all, but the tread of an old truck tire lying on the bank.  Then as we came nearer, it grew a head, tail, and four legs.  As we passed by, Steve said it was at least six feet long, and I suggested it was only four and a half.  This dispute required resolution, so he turned the cart around, and drove directly toward the gator, stopping about 20 feet away.

With considerable deliberation, we placed mental marks on the ground by the gators nose and tail.  Then our plan was to coax the critter back into the water, measure between the marks, and viola! we could determine the exact length of the critter by measuring between the marks.  With the marks in place, Steve flapped his arms, jumped up and down, and made a hissing noise to scare the critter away.  The gator didn’t budge, and remained completely motionless in the face of such substantial harassment.  I handed Steve a golf ball, and suggested he might get him off the marks with that.  He slung the ball at the gator with considerably more accuracy than his putting, hitting him with great force in the side right behind the head.   With that jolt, the critter snapped his jaws, bared his teeth, looked our way, and then returned to his former status on the bank.  Motionless.  Our frustration was growing, but we concluded the gator had won, and gave up on the project.

As we drove away, the gator snapped around with his head and jaws, grabbed the golf ball, and choked it down toward his throat. Then in a moment of indecision, he had second thoughts, and coughed the ball back up.  He chewed on it for a second with his sharp little teeth, then spit it out of his mouth, and back out onto the ground.

I am sure we will never determine exactly how long this little gator was, but with every day he is growing longer.  In all probability it was between four and five feet, but six feet makes a better story.  There was no question, however, about his jaws being at least 10 inches long, opened a full foot wide, and were lined with dozens of extremely sharp teeth on both sides. His reluctance to move from the waters edge, in the face of a barrage of harassment, amply confirms a nasty disposition.  In spite of our ominous presence, I suspect he might have attacked both of us, had we approached him any closer than we did.

Our advice to golfers in Florida is quite simple.  If your ball is within twenty yards of a gator, take a drop, without penalty, a safe distance from the gator.  When looking for balls along the waters edge, – and among the trees, be wary of the gators who clearly inhabit both the water and the forest around Florida’s courses.  Some of the gators believe they own the fairways, and I, for one, will not argue the point.  By contrast, the gators are fully prepared to defend their territory, teeth and all.

For dessert, he tells of a foursome playing the Creek Course at Hammock Dunes.  One of the golfers strolled into some tall grass to find an errant ball.  On returning he discovers fang marks on his leg.  Fortunately a doctor was part of the foursome, and advised that a third of all poisonous snake bites do not inject venom.  Waiting a few minutes was all that was required to determine the bite was among this non-lethal third, and play was continued with one more hair-raising story to add to golfing in Florida.

Diamondback rattler

Diamondback rattler

To assure the full attention of any readers who golf, the above is one of Florida’s more lethal inhabitants.  This diamond back rattle snake is coiled and ready to strike at anything warm who strays too close.  He or she crawled across a gravel cart path revealing its 5 foot body and its amazing girth about the size of an average coffee cup.  While this snake never rattled the first time, the head is positioned directly over its rattles, and is pointed straight at me as I took this picture some 20 feet away on the path.  Rattlers may provide a little warning, while water moccasins, which inhabit both dry and swampy areas, provide no warning of any kind.

When playing golf in Florida, be certain that you do not suffer from golfers astigmatism, a common disorder that distorts linear distances, and mistakes live gators as truck tires.   I can clearly tell the difference between a truck tire and an alligator, – as soon as I get close enough to hear the jaws snapping.

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